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200 × 120 × 12 mm
160 pages
01 Aug 2008
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A Philosophy of Fear Lars Svendsen

Surveillance cameras. Airport security lines. Barred shop windows. We see manifestations of societal fears every day, and daily news reports on the latest household danger or raised terror threat level continually stoke our sense of impending doom. In A Philosophy of Fear, Lars Svendsen explores the underlying ideas and issues behind this powerful emotion, as he investigates how and why fear has insinuated itself into every aspect of modern life.

Svendsen delves into science, politics, sociology and literature to explore the nature of fear. He discusses the biology behind the emotion, from the neuroscience underlying our ‘fight or flight’ instinct to how fear induces us to take irrational actions in our attempts to minimize risk. The book then turns to the political and social realms, investigating the role of fear in the philosophies of Machiavelli and Hobbes, the rise of the modern ‘risk society’, and how fear has eroded social trust. The political use of fear in the ongoing ‘War on Terror’ also comes under Svendsen's probing gaze, as he investigates whether we can ever disentangle ourselves from the continual state of alarm that defines our age.

Svendsen ultimately argues for the possibility of a brighter, less fearful future that is marked by a triumph of humanist optimism. An incisive and thought-provoking meditation, A Philosophy of Fear pulls back the curtain that shrouds dangers both imagined and real, forcing us to confront our fears and why we hold to them.

‘Fear is a powerful emotion. It can save lives. But it also robs us of our freedom and undermines that essential social glue: trust. Bertrand Russell once said that to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. Svendsen agrees. In this brief yet wide-ranging and insightful book, he argues convincingly that we need to replace the risk society with a culture of hope and trust.’ — The Guardian

‘. . . an enjoyable, well-written and compelling tour of philosophical treatments of fear harnessed to an emphasis on the social consequences of living against a background state of fear. Scholarly yet accessible, this book offers subtle philosophical exploration alongside examples from novels, films and other popular media, while avoiding preachiness or doom-mongering.’ — Times Higher Education

‘Svendsens thoughtful and well written book analyzes the nature of fear and how it has saturated every layer of our life-world.’ — Metapsychology

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Lars Svendsen is Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Bergen, Norway. He is the author of many books including A Philosophy of Boredom (2004), Fashion: A Philosophy (2006), A Philosophy of Fear (2008), A Philosophy of Freedom (2014) and A Philosophy of Loneliness (2017), all published by Reaktion Books.

One: The Culture of Fear
Two: What is Fear?
Three: Fear and Risk
Four: The Attraction of Fear
Five: Fear and Trust
Six: The Politics of Fear
Seven: Beyond Fear?